"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Church pastors, teachers, musicians, and all who care deeply about "the reason for the season" face many of the same problems experienced by our secular counterparts. We have extra assaults on our time and resources, too. Even for us Christmas can be a less than peaceful time of year.
Every Dec. 26 I promise myself the next year will be different. I won't take on more projects than I can handle; I will practice my extra music way ahead of time; and I won't be rushing to mail Christmas cards before my already extended deadline of Jan. 1. But my determination rarely prevents the next round of frenetic activity 12 months away.
By now I've decided that as long as I'm able to write, make music, and maintain loving relationships with family and friends, it will always be this way. But what I can change is how I react to the mounting pressure, something I still might not have learned without discovering an amazing secret for regaining much of that lost "comfort and joy:" taking Christmas personally.
For me, this custom began in a small military chapel in Budingen, Germany, more than 30 years ago. Though it was time to plan the annual Sunday School Christmas program, I couldn't muster an ounce of enthusiasm for what should have been a delightful task. Every idea sounded so ordinary, so every-yearish, so empty of the power to thrill an audience with what I believed was the greatest story ever told.
I wasn't interested in Christmas cards, decorating the house, or buying gifts that year, either. So much work, so little time, and so little joy as the calendar ate up my pre-Christmas days.
But the program had fallen on my shoulders that year, and since I tend to be compulsive about my commitments I decided to jump-start my planning by reading the familiar Christmas story once again. Slowly, halfheartedly, I turned to the second chapter of Luke and began to read:
"And there were in the same country shepherds ... for unto YOU is born this day... ."
You? I couldn't remember accenting the pronoun before. This was the angel's message to the shepherds, a specific group of people who lived many years ago, wasn't it? And each year as I planned the reenactment of that historic event, my first thought had always been to find a girl with a loud voice who looked enough like an angel to convince our rag-tag, bathrobed shepherds to run to Bethlehem and see this baby for themselves.
Just for the fun of it, I kept reading as if the whole story had been written just to me: ...and on earth, peace, good will to - I inserted my name - and (I) returned, glorifying and praising God for all (I) had heard and seen."
Needless to say I couldn't wait to plan the Christmas program that year, nor have I stopped looking for that new, personal Christmas lesson whenever the holiday doldrums threaten to recur.
Some years I ponder why I need that baby-turned-Messiah at all, and thank him because: as the light of my world, he illumines the dark places in my understanding; brings joy to my world when sorrow seems greater than I can bear; or spreads peace in my corner of the earth when turmoil makes me forget that the ruler of the universe can be trusted with whatever is disturbing me.
And concerning those Christmas pageants, instead of finding characters to act out the story, I become part of that story myself. Besides identifying with the shepherds who "saw" the Christ Child for themselves, sometimes I'm the angel telling others that the Savior was born for them, too.
Sadly, I can also be the innkeeper who has no room in my crowded holiday schedule for Him. Occasionally, especially after visiting their part of the world (Turkey), I am one of the Magi wondering if this Jesus really is who he claimed to be. Though I make no such claim, I pray to become an extension of Mary, when something I do or say creates a new birth of Jesus in someone else's heart.
May you and yours have a blessed, personal Christmas, this year and all your Christmases to come.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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